As an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker, I truly despise hearing people say, “I hated that movie because it was nothing like the book.”
God forbid an adaptation neglects one of its novel’s subplots or changes a character’s name, because then the film is crap, right? I mean, isn’t that what an adaptation is supposed to be? A visual translation of a certain book, journal, or article? Well, not exactly…
Anyone familiar with the art of filmmaking knows that a screenplay is a ruthless, impregnable, formulaic structure. It is a carefully designed and perfected organization of thoughts and plot points that effectively tells a story, and it leaves very little wiggle room for structural difference. Within the realm of adaptations, things become even trickier. In books, you have all the time you need – all the pages in the world to share your story. All the time in the world to share your characters. Your plot. Your subplots. And you can do it all however the hell you want. In a film, however, you only have 100 pages (give or take) to tell an audience a story audiovisually. To say the least, creating an adaptation is a daunting task.
In The Lover (the novel), the book is told through a series of snapshots – quick little snippets of memory written in a fashion that resembles a stream of conscience. Sometimes, the snapshots are out of chronological order, and other times, the memory is not one that had any sort of physical manifestation. It was a memory of an emotion, a memory of a feeling, or a memory of a recollected truth – the type of things that are nearly impossible to convey visually.
When you think about recalling important moments to tell the story of your life, it’s difficult to pick and choose which moments to share. Partly because you want to make sure you’re picking the right moments, and partly because you want to make sure you’re telling the right story. In fact, the latter might be the hardest part of composing the memoir.
In The Lover, the story that the author is trying to tell is arguably indefinite. While it is possible for a reader to pull multiple stories from the novel, it is difficult to sum up the entire work into a single, coherent story. In a memoir chock-full of nuances, exaggerations, point-of-view shifts, and a non-linear structure, it might be impossible to draw one overarching story or message from what the author is truly trying to say in her book.
With that said, the film is an adaptation of an adaptation. The author of the memoir had to string memories together in such a way to tell the story that she wanted to tell while the director had to string certain bits of the novel together to tell the story he wanted to tell. He essentially pulled a story from a story, and in my opinion, he did a marvelous job.
He didn’t just create a scene-for-scene visual representation of what was already in the novel. Instead, he carefully took bits and pieces of the novel and shot them in a way that would psychologically and artistically compensate for the moments he didn’t choose to share. With the help of an incredible cinematographer, composer, and production designer, the director was able to tell the story of the “girl in the gentleman’s hat,” and he was able to do it in such a way that almost seemed more effective than the book itself. Sure, it wasn’t a perfectly “accurate” adaptation, but that’s not what the adaptation is all about. The art of creating an adaptation is about finding moments from an existing work, and dramatizing them to tell a specific story – and that’s exactly what the director did.